11/06/2017 18:33 EST | Updated 11/06/2017 18:33 EST

'Paradise Papers': Tories Ask Trudeau Why Stephen Bronfman Attended 2016 White House State Dinner

"Can the prime minister give us one reason, just one reason?"

Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toasts former U.S. President Barack Obama during a state dinner at the White House on March 10, 2016.

The release of the so-called "Paradise Papers" has spurred federal Conservatives to ask new questions about a White House dinner from nearly 20 months ago.

Conservatives wasted little time Monday highlighting leaked records that link Stephen Bronfman, a wealthy businessman who served as the chief Liberal fundraiser, to offshore tax havens. Bronfman has released a statement saying he never used offshore trusts and never violated Canadian tax laws through the use of offshore havens.

Tory Leader Andrew Scheer elicited some groans when he kicked off question period by drawing attention to the "Paradise Papers," accusing Bronfman of moving millions of dollars to offshore havens "through a complex web of entities in the U.S., Israel and the Cayman Islands." Scheer also said there is evidence of "bogus records" and invoices.

But in something of a twist, Scheer brought the issue back to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's historic visit to Washington in March 2016 to break bread with then president Barack Obama.

"At the height of a softwood lumber dispute, the prime minister chose to take Stephen Bronfman to a state dinner at the White House, leaving his minister of natural resources behind," Scheer said. "Simple question: what business did Bronfman have at the White House?"

Bronfman, a close family friend of Trudeau's, was part of the 44-member delegation for the visit, which cost taxpayers at least $25,000. The Liberal party later told The Canadian Press Bronfman's expenses weren't covered by taxpayers.

Trudeau responded by sharing condolences for the victims of the shooting on Sunday at a Texas church, and had nothing specific to say about Scheer's question.

Trudeau: Grits committed to fighting tax evasion

"On the other matter, I can assure them that we are fully committed to fighting tax avoidance and tax evasion and will continue to ensure that the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) pursues all infringes upon that for the many years to come," Trudeau said.

This isn't the first time Tories have raised a stink about Trudeau's delegation for the White House trip, particularly the decision to exclude Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.

Former interim Tory leader Rona Ambrose suggested Carr's absence showed Liberals weren't serious about promoting the Keystone XL pipeline project with the Obama administration. She scored laughs at Carr's expense in the House of Commons last year by stating she even scored an invite to the dinner.

Scheer has previously questioned in the Commons why Trudeau included his in-laws in the delegation, but not Carr.

Tory MP Gerard Deltell also pounced on the issue Monday, asking why Bronfman was welcomed to the White House a year-and-a-half ago while Carr had to stay back in Ottawa.

"Can the prime minister give us one reason, just one reason, why he left his natural resources minister in Ottawa but brought his Liberal bagman friend?" Deltell asked.

Natural Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier ducked the question by saying the government has invested nearly $1 billion in the last two federal budgets to combat tax evasion and avoidance.

Deltell shot back by saying Trudeau's close friendship with Bronfman was "staining Canada's reputation." He again asked for "one good reason" why he attended the state dinner in Washington.

Revenue minister accuses Tories of 'hypocrisy'

Lebouthillier again trumpeted Liberal efforts to go after tax evaders and accused the Tories of hypocrisy for not prioritizing the issue while in government.

Tory House Leader Candice Bergen took perhaps the sharpest jab at Bronfman, charging that he did not raise money for Trudeau's Liberals out of charity.

"He, as all Liberals do, always wants something in return," Bergen said before calling on Liberals to return all the money Bronfman raised.

With files from The Canadian Press

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